Perhaps Homeland Security Defense initiatives haven’t been the windfall the security industry expected, but this market and other related low-voltage segments continue to grow.

After Sept. 11, the phones wouldn’t stop ringing for many manufacturers. But that flurried frenzy of activity has been replaced by a “wait-and-see” attitude while federal funding is slowly released. Conservative for the most part, many end-users want to spend their limited security dollars carefully and conscientiously—making certain to choose the right technology for their operations today and the future.

Security end-users are smart and savvy, knowing full well that technology is advancing at Moore’s Law pace and developments are coming fast and furious in hardware, software, communication devices and more. They also know that security means more than just preventing outsiders from coming in. It means putting measures in place inside the facility, establishing safe zones and using security to provide other functions such as networking access, time and attendance, point of sale, building automation and remote monitoring. Security must also integrate smoothly with data and information around and between corporate environments. There’s a newfound focus on functionality and convenience, and that adds up to an all-around easier sale.

On the product manufacturing side, Homeland Security has inspired more companies to examine how they can provide the systems and services the government wants for defending our home soil. Electrical contractors can expect continued activity in “critical infrastructures” issued by the Office of Homeland Security in the following areas: agriculture, food, water, public health, emergency services, government, industrial base, information/telecommunications, energy, transportation, banking/finance, the chemical industry and postage shipping. In other words, it is a good possibility that security end-users in these markets will be looking for contractors to install products at their facilities.

Many manufacturers in the United States have seen their security revenues eroded by the continued emergence of overseas manufacturers not only from China, Korea and Japan, but also relative newcomers from Latin America. Consolidation on the manufacturing side in the United States proper also continues, but not at the hurried pace of the late 1990s and early 2000. Manufacturers continue to hold their ground by sharpening their focus, pinpointing emerging applications and developing reliable products to get the job done.

It’s not just intrusion detection and simple alarm systems that will suffice in most circumstances. It is a total, integrated systems approach that will yield the most benefits both for the electrical contractor and the market. There is new attention to multipurpose, multifaceted systems that not only can accomplish an array of specific security tasks, but also add employee accountability, building automation and other labor and manpower savings to the mix. Another factor is the continued convergence of security and information technologies. Those who deploy network security want to make sure they have their share of space, which can easily be whittled away without careful foresight and planning. Information technology personnel want space for their needs as well.

Emerging security trends

In low-voltage and security today, intelligence, turnkey solutions and video are expected and delivered. Two areas advancing at light speed are video surveillance and access control, especially biometrics, with both becoming more affordable and, therefore, cost-effective. Integration continues as manufacturing companies get the hang of developing products that can interface with a wide range of security systems and solutions—whether it be through computer software, user interfaces, microprocessors or other hardware. Communication protocols have been adapted, for example, to allow integrators to mix biometrics and Wiegand protocols in older, existing access-control systems. Wireless continues to proliferate the market with a range of systems and services aimed first at convenience and then at security and accountability.

According to the Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based industrial market research firm, statistics on the U.S. Security Equipment Market show U.S. sales of security products and systems forecast to advance to 7.9 percent per annum through 2006 to $16.4 billion, up from the already robust 1990s pace. According to the study, despite ongoing economic weakness, growth will continue to be propelled by heightened security awareness against terrorist actions as government agencies, the air travel industry, power plants, office buildings and other high-profile targets investing heavily in new protective measures. Also fueling demand will be heightened fear of crimes ranging from industrial espionage to school shootings, as well as an apparent hike in reported U.S. crime rates following nearly a decade of decline.

The Freedonia Group research singles out bomb detectors, CCTV cameras and biometrics as the primary beneficiary of the ongoing investment in Homeland Security. Among the most important developments will be the increasing digitalization of security components, fostering greater intelligence for items ranging from alarm systems, cameras and recorders to electronic surveillance/asset management tags and access-control cards, according to the Freedonia Group.

Biometrics: hot stuff

Several years ago, most end-users wouldn’t dream of “touching” biometrics such as fingerprint, hand or eye-retinal scanning devices. However, the cost of such technology has dropped dramatically, adding to the lure of this type of equipment for a variety of levels of security, said Bill Spence, director of marketing, IR Recognition Systems, Campbell, Calif.

In addition, he said, hand geometry fits real-world applications such as time and attendance, and fulfills accountability features. “What’s important is that you don’t need a card for access. You don’t have to worry about having one or losing it. When your hand is your card, that’s the ultimate convenience,” he said.

Not only is hand geometry a punch clock, but the system can transmit the data to a central computer for accounting and integrate with time/attendance and payroll software. In fact, for time and attendance applications, hand-geometry readers continue to be the dominant biometric technology, according to Frost & Sullivan’s World Biometric Report 2002.

“This market’s only going to get bigger. You may not put biometrics in every door right now, but where you want a higher level of accountability or convenience. You’ll also see a mixture of biometrics with other locking solutions, such as fingerprint and PIN codes, for example,” Spence said.

According to the International Biometrics Group (IBG), finger scan continues to be the leading biometric technology with a 48.8 percent installed market share. Facial scanning technology systems carry 15.4 percent of the market.

The federal government recently issued a multimillion-dollar Request for Proposals (RFP) for biometric identification and the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and other agencies issued a RFP for biometrics for border control use. The Enhanced Border and Visa Security Act of 2002 mandates that every person coming into the United States must have a multiple, biometric machine-readable visa by October 2004. And, most recently, airports have been looking into doing background checks—for each and every one of their passengers.

Advancements in the video industry are also creating a buzz. Backed by dramatic cost drops over the last several years in black -and-white and color cameras, as well as higher resolutions, video has gained mainstream appeal. In all types of markets—especially hospitality, casinos, schools and public venues—video has become affordable to deploy and presents the perfect, recordable evidence that can be viewed on or off site over the Internet, LAN or WAN.

Video will continue to play a major role in emerging security trends, according to Brian Mathieu, vice president of Securitas Security Systems Response Group, Boston.

“The biggest trend is the insurgence of video in all types of businesses, but especially in retail,” Mathieu said. Video is being used as a loss prevention and audit tool, to view locations over the Web and as a way to guarantee that an alarm activation is not false, prior to dispatching police, he said.

Verification and remote monitoring are the latest uses for video. Frank Trimboli is vice president of sales for RemoteReality Corp. in Westborough, Mass. He said that in some areas of California, overburdened police will not dispatch authorities unless the situation has been or can be verified via video. RemoteReality has developed a proprietary parabolic mirror optical lens that allows for continuous 360-degree, real-time viewing capabilities. Developed specifically for the Department of Defense, Navy, Air Force and others, the technology provides “continuous situation awareness,” he said.

It can be used in the import business, for oil ships or to provide a virtual perimeter security system. It can also be teamed with a high-resolution pan-tilt-zoom camera for both the 360-degree overall view and the pan-tilt-zoom sights viewable in tandem on the same screen.

Video is smarter than ever. Intelligent video surveillance software “watches” surveillance feeds from a camera or digital video system and detects, identifies and analyzes objects captured on video automatically and in real time. Images can be recorded to hard drives, digital video recorders or transmitted to remote locations for on-the-spot viewing.

It is onward and upward for security. New technologies continue to be refined, with an emphasis on developing those solutions that pinpoint specific scenarios and applications—whatever they may be. It’s not so much the hardware, but what the hardware can do, that matters most. EC